Basin and Range
Holoscenes - Textures of the Earth
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The other major obstacle in the mountains was snow. It was impossible to keep the line open in the face of winter storms that left 40-foot drifts over the tracks. The solution was to build snow sheds -- in effect, wooden tunnels to shield the track through the worst areas. Snow sheds protected 37 miles of track, leading to descriptions of the Central Pacific as the "railroad in a barn."
The line was America's last major engineering work constructed without benefit of machinery. It took five years to open the line from Sacramento to Reno, Nevada. A year later, in 1869, the rails across the continent met at Promontory, Utah. The human cost of that construction was high. The Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese laborers -- 1200 of them lost their lives driving the line through the mountains.
[On the map, the modern rail line is approximately parallel to I-80.]
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